Box Blight at Ickworth

Box hedges at Ickworth

The sumptuous Pleasure Grounds at Ickworth have delighted and inspired people for generations, but now they are threatened as never before. Box Blight is infecting the Italianate Garden and the wider estate. To fight it we must replace some of our best loved hedges and plants with something else.

Ickworth’s box plants
Box has been part of the planting scheme at Ickworth for two centuries, providing individual sculptural specimens as well as nearly 3km of distinctive hedging.  Box plays a key role in the Italianate Gardens where it creates discreet garden spaces framing views to and from the house, and provides sheltered micro climates for other plants.  Elsewhere, box adds evergreen variety to many of our best loved walks and vistas.
 
An incurable disease
Box Blight has been ravaging Europe and Britain since the 1990's and no cure has yet been found.  Its relentless spread has been helped by the milder weather and wetter ground conditions of recent years, a trend that climate scientists expect to continue.  
 
Box Blight is caused by 2 types of fungi, Cylindrocladium buxicola and Pseudonectria buxi
 
The blight causes leaves to go brown and fall off which leads to bare patches. Once present it spreads rapidly, turning lush, green growth into a forlorn mass of dead twigs. The disease can last up to 6 years and there is currently no cure.
 
In January 2015, our worst fears were realised at Ickworth when we began finding newly-dead growth and samples revealed the two fungi that cause Box Blight.   
 
The way ahead
We are working with the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) to find the best way to tackle the disease, not just for Ickworth but as part of a national and international effort.  Together we’re testing different watering, cutting and spraying routines along with ways to remove and destroy infected plants and the soil around them.  
 
And so we are cutting, digging, clearing and treating every plant, hedge, tree and soil area that needs it – often in some of our most spectacular and memorable garden spaces, and always in full view of our visitors.  
 
And what will we plant in their place? Garden experts are helping us decide.  We are researching plant varieties and types that are true to the garden’s Italianate theme and the structural and sculptural qualities of box.  But above all they must be plants that will thrive in today’s and tomorrow’s growing conditions. 
 
How you can help
Ickworth’s landscape may look timeless and unchanging but of course it is neither.  It has evolved over two centuries of careful design, planting and maintenance, and now it must do so again.  Today’s growing conditions happen to favour an intractable disease, producing a threat our forebears at Ickworth would have understood only too well.
 
We need to be as bold and visionary in our response as they would have been.  With your help we will be.  Our once-in-a-lifetime renewal of Ickworth’s box planting will pass on their legacy, enriched and adapted, for future generations to enjoy. 
 
All donations, big or small, are welcome.